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Wind in my sails

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Sep. 12th, 2016 | 09:06 pm

Sunday the 11th we talked about the weather.  The Navigator had been looking up stuff on Skyvector and NOAA and other sites and said Tuesday was going to really be a windy horrible day.  We'd been planning to leave Monday so that seemed fine.  I should have checked to see HOW horrible Tuesday would be and what that would be on Monday.  My previous lookup of the weather had shown some pockets of wind but nothing major.  I should have checked first thing Monday morning.  Clue.

We went to the airport (KVGT) to find our aircraft was ready and called in for fuel.  As they had not stored my previous credit card info (thank you for caring about my privacy?) I had to read it back to them on the phone.  While I did that The Navigator told Brian and his crew that Tuesday was going to majorly suck.  They looked up the weather and started calling flights off left and right.  Clue.

We took off and headed toward the BofA building in North Las Vegas (leave KVGT head 220) and when instructed called Las Vegas.  We were approved for entry into Class Bravo airspace and approved for the Boulder Highway transition.  We were asked to go particularly low to avoid other helicopter traffic and given we were over a 4-lane highway I obliged.  The controllers were super-nice to us after that.

The plan was to take a new route back, going through Prescott Arizona, Ernest Love Field.  Along the way we'd pass by Kingman (KIGM).  I noticed that the headwinds were pretty rough... and were getting buffetted a bit (20sG30s) so I said why not stop at Kingman for fuel.  Smart move.

On our way to Kingman it was pretty windy.  Those 20sG30s were kicking us around a bit and I had to slow us down to 70-80 knots of airspeed.  That's brutally slow but at least it made things palatable.  Mostly.  Just outside of Kingman is a pass where the road goes between two mountains and I should have been way above them... realized it maybe seconds in time... and climbed climbed climbed but we still got hit hard a couple of times.

Then we went into Kingman, 20ktsG30s winds ... a friendly local was on the frequency advising us of the FBO being willing to deliver fuel.  I didn't want to set down next to the self-serve fuel ramp with those winds.  We landed, cooled off, got out, the local offered us a ride, we were wet with sweat and declined, and walked to the FBO with 20kts+ wind howling at us.

At the FBO I looked up distances and figured out while we could normally make Tucson just fine (I've made KTUS<-->KHII<-->KVGT many a time and KIGM is just as far as KHII...) but figured planning for another Wickenburg stop wouldn't hurt.  We topped off... I sampled the fuel... (as I had all times except for Wickenburg the first time) and we took off into the 20kts wind and then southeast toward our destination.

It was a great flight.  Except we were getting seriously buffeted the whole time and again it was 70-80ktia and ugly.  Ground thermals were not helping.  I hated it.  The Navigator was powering through it.

Wickenburg.  We started to see white fluffy clouds.  That means things are good.  We got in, landed (The Navigator pointed out where the fuel ramp was because I had the airport map 180° off in my mind) and fueled up.  Then we went to start it.  No start.  Again.  No start.  Again.  Got a start... but it died.  Again... but now no reaction from the starter.  That's right.  One hope away from hope the starter was DEAD DEAD DEAD.  I said something positive, I'm sure.

Got out of the aircraft, called Dave the mechanic.  He said it would take 60-90 minutes to get there.  I thought he was kidding.  We went to hang in the (empty) FBO during that time.  When I say empty I mean the only things in there were magazines, a toilet, an empty fridge with stale donuts, and no ice or cold water.

Then Dave showed up, having flown R22 N164LE (in which I'd trained!) to the ramp.  He had his toolback out and everything.  Panel open he asked me to start it up.  I expected -zero- from the starter but lo and behold it ALMOST started.  I could have cried.  We both sighed deeply and I tried again.  This time it DID START so I said I was not going to turn it off and would he get The Navigator.  Dave volunteered to take the controls from the left seat while I did so.  Gladly.  He did.  I did.

I brought out The Navigator and explained how Hot Loading was going to occur
o Stay beyond this line
o Dave will come get you
o Hand on your head not only to hold hat on but to remind you to bend down
o Get in, seat belt, Dave will help with this
o Headset, Dave will help or I will
o Dave will depart without getting decapitated
o We depart

The plan worked according to... plan.  and we departed for Tucson.  One and a half hours.  Forecast less winds, just some rain.  That was also not to be.

We went by Buckeye so I could listen to their AWOS.  I didn't mention before but I'd read their NOTAMs and there was nothing there about no fuel... so I wanted to see if they'd fixed that.  Also there was going to be a TFR over downtown PHX for a baseball game... so going by Buckeye meant we'd ignore all that.

We went by Buckeye... all runways and taxiways closed till the end of the month.  WHAT????
Then Estrellla.   Ak Chin.   Casa Grande....
At this point we're seeing huge storms southeast of us so we're not heading to the I-10 freeway... which means we have to stay way west to avoid Pinal Airpark (KMZJ) parachute drop zone "Kodiak".  So we're over the desert... everything's just gotten soaked, and then we get hit with a rainshower.  Fortunately it was only water.

We continue on in southbound and west of Tucson and around Maran (KAVQ) I'm thinking we could go back to the freeway... but... no... Marana says "The storm is on top of us".  We keep going south.

We ended up going toward KRYN and 5 miles out I called them... winds at 19kts... no breaks to be caught today.  There were rays of sunshine to the east so we headed to Tucson and landed with plenty of fuel with our health, lives, and safety preserved.

If I had to do it over:
1. Fuel to full at every point
2. Have ALL alternate airports on the kneeboard, not just the near ones, also the ones you may strive to get to
3. If there's going to be 20g30 winds then stay in Las Vegas for another two or three days and make it a great time!!!

The last conclusion I think best represents "get there itis".  We didn't have a "get there itis" of getting home... but one of beating the storm... and that's stupid... because storms don't build up in a minute... they take days.

The aircraft was great.
The Navigator was great.
The pilot needs to do a better job of planning (and also of sampling fuel)
Don't abuse the starter.  (Since then the aircraft got a 100hr/annual and fuel issues were addressed for easier starts)


hardest flight I've ever had... and the only way to have made it better was not to have done it that way.


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